Are over-the-counter sleep aids right for you?


CONSUMER REPORTS- If you’re struggling with insomnia, you might want to think twice before you reach for over-the-counter sleep aids. Many of the drugs are labeled “non-habit forming.” But Consumer Reports reveals potential risks in taking them.

Tara Matthews has had chronic insomnia on and off for years. She relied on over the counter sleep aids to help her fall asleep.

“When I can’t fall asleep it makes me very anxious because I know how much I have to do the next day,” says Matthews.

What Tara didn’t know is that over-the-counter sleep aids typically contain diphenhydramine and doxylamine – antihistamines that can make you sleepy.

“Although these ingredients are not physically addictive, there can be a risk of psychological dependency,” says Lisa Gill, Best Buy Drugs Consumer Reports.

In fact a Consumer Reports national survey found 20-percent have taken over-the-counter sleep medication within a year. And in that group almost 1 in 5 took them on a daily basis. Most concerning – 41 percent said they took them for a year or longer.

At the time of their approval as over-the-counter sleep aids, there was not enough evidence to show that the drugs caused dependence, so the label “non-habit forming” still remains.

The FDA tells Consumer Reports using a sleep aid for 2 weeks or less at the labeled dose makes it  “…very unlikely that the consumer will become dependent on it.”

But Matthews says she’s not convinced.

“Maybe I would have looked for alternatives sooner,” says Matthews.

Over-the-counter sleep aids also carry warnings: They can cause serious side effects like next-day drowsiness, dizziness and confusion. And frequent use can increase the risk of dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. If your insomnia is persistent, it’s time to see your doctor.

This Consumer Reports story is based on this article.

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